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Preventing Rheumatic Heart Disease Is Urgent

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By Allison Kozicharow; Edited by Elizabeth Fine

Rheumatic heart disease (RHD). Preventable and treatable if diagnosed in early stages of infection. If not, RHD is deadly.

A recent 2024  Lancet article states that “rheumatic heart disease affects 40 million people globally” and “remains the largest contributor of cardiovascular-related mortality in children worldwide.” The report emphasizes the urgent need for early diagnosis and treatment of acute RHD and the danger of late detection.

WiRED International has long targeted RHD. More than 10 years ago we started to develop a suite of programs designed to educate and curb the spread of strep infections and RHD.

Today WiRED offers:

  • A series of RHD modules in English, Portuguese, Spanish, French and Arabic for general audiences, teachers, students and community health workers.
  • An Echocardiogram training series for nurses, a collaboration among a four-member team of medical specialists, used primarily in areas where cardiologists are unheard of. The series is available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
  • An RHD video animation (available in English, Spanish and Portuguese), which in the space of a few minutes describes RHD, explains why it is so serious, why it prevails in low-resource communities and why it needs to be addressed.

Detection and prevention of RHD remain key. WiRED believes that the ability to recognize the signs and symptoms of streptococcus A and treat it before it ends in RHD will dramatically reduce the occurrence of this illness. To that end, WiRED’s RHD training tools enable healthcare professionals, community health workers and ordinary people alike to be on the alert against RHD. All WiRED materials are available to all and remain free of charge and easy to download onto computers, tablets and phones.

What is RHD?

RHD begins with an infection from a bacteria called invasive group A streptococcus or strep A. If diagnosed and treated with antibiotics, that is the end of the story. If not, strep A can lead to scarlet fever then to rheumatic fever, then RHD — a life-threatening and disabling condition that permanently damages the heart.

The illness strikes children and adolescents the most. RHD occurs mainly in underserved regions of the world where health care is limited or nonexistent and poverty is widespread, such as sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific.